As COVID-19 continues to keep many of us at home or close to home, in-person conferences and events have seen a sharp decline this year. Adobe Summit, South by Southwest, TED 2020, Facebook’s F8 — all have been canceled or postponed. But the show must go on, right? As we stated in March, “It is now vital to achieve the goals once met by live events in new ways, both as a response to the present pandemic and in the longer-term future.” Fortunately for those in the pharma industry, many organizations are putting together high-quality virtual events to help us stay connected and keep learning from each other. Last week, Fierce Life Sciences did just that – hosting a free, three-day virtual version of Digital Pharma Week. Here are a few highlights we wanted to share.

What Does Being Data-Driven Really Mean?
In his presentation, “What Does Being Data-Driven Really Mean?” Boehringer Ingelheim’s Simon Pilkowski, global lead digital performance management, discussed how most data-driven companies aren’t necessarily the ones with all the money and fancy analytics tools; they’re the ones with data-driven leadership. It’s all about the people and the culture, not the tools, Pilkowski says. Senior management must motivate their employees to leverage and communicate data in smart, meaningful ways that bring value to the company. Analytics is all about the process of understanding the what, why, context, and relevance of data, and how to optimize based on new insights. This process must be the gold standard for every project — which means no “freestyling,” Pilkowski says. In this way, analysts and marketers can work in harmony based on their respective expertise to achieve success.

5 Steps to Analytics Success
Pilkowski recommends the following steps to ensure success:

  1. Clearly define what you want to achieve using a structured and detailed framework like SMART or OKR [objectives and key results].
  2. Collect the data and know what you are looking for.
  3. Report and organize data in order to understand.
  4. Build insights that drive business value.
  5. Optimize, implement, and drive action based on what you learned leveraging the data.

The Ultimate Data Analyst
Who can analysts look to for inspiration and motivation? Pilkowski says it’s the person at the club behind a table of spinning tracks and light-up buttons: a DJ. DJs rely heavily on data for a successful career. At every booking, disc jockeys play music, take in audience data through active listening, and adjust on the spot to enhance their performance. They’re pros at real-time implementation and achieving business goals — whether that be amping up a crowd or earning their next opportunity.

Digital Transformation: The What and Why
Lorenzo Anti, commercial strategy lead for oncology at Pfizer Italy, talked about digital transformation and, of course, commercial strategy. When it comes to digital disruption, Anti says, the tourism, telecoms, media and retail sectors are winning; healthcare on the other hand, is less than noteworthy. Our field needs to strive for and accelerate much more digital transformation, and create clear, goal-oriented visions of where we want to drive our companies in the future. The shift toward digital is critical to attain an expanded reach through channels and diverse markets.

Pfizer’s Digital Transformation Model
Pfizer conducted a survey in 2017 in order to build a new digital transformation model. The model begins in the “Dare to Try” phase, with traditional promotion and first experimentations, before moving onto the “Dare to Fly” phase, where faster and more efficient activation of customer types and channels is key. The third, “Over the Sky,” phase champions digital disruption activities such as an eliminated field force, virtual congress, greater e-commerce goals, increased investments in digital, 100% virtual interactions, and 90% SI&A (i.e., adjusted cost of sales, adjusted selling, informational and administrative expenses) in digital.

These phases are the result of Pfizer’s survey; Anti shared the following insights:

  • Consumer is perceived as the area with the biggest opportunities for digital, though the current focus is still largely on HCPs.
  • Alignment and coordination across channels is perceived as high, with greater room for improvement across functions and brands.
  • End-to-end content production is the most mentioned area where countries require support from the region.
  • Social media is seen as the initiative with better or best performance, but also as the opportunity that couldn’t be fully maximized due to lack of resources.

Workstreams of Opportunity
Anti says there are six workstreams that must meld seamlessly for digital success:

  • Strategy: Gain an understanding of the current alignment to customer needs and integration of digital in the go-to-market model.
  • Channel, Platforms and Marketing Automation: Provide an overview of existing channels and platforms and their effective use, as well as marketing automation opportunities.
  • Content Management: Diagnose the current content production maturity and challenges, including tagging, repurposing, and customization to align with customer needs. Work with outside sources from local areas and adapt content respectively.
  • Insights, Analytics and Data Management: Assess the coverage, maturity, and quality of the current insights and how they can be translated into actionable insights for digital.
  • Legal, Regulatory, Compliance and Medical: Provide an overview on gaps and key capabilities needed from legal, regulatory, compliance and medical for digital activities.
  • Culture: Embed digital as part of daily business.

Digital Transformation Questions for Leadership

  1. How can we as leadership effectively endorse and direct digital transformation?
  2. How can we best structure ourselves to execute the digital transformation model?
  3. What (organizational) behavior related to digital transformation should we reward, and how?
  4. How can we accurately embed in digital operations today and for the future?

Marketing Considerations: United States and Europe
Sandy Donaldson, head of global omnichannel operations at UCB, cites the United States as having a more complex matrix of specific regulations compared with Europe. However, the United States has a secret weapon that Europe doesn’t: NPIs. These NPIs — unique identifiers that can track physicians’ behavior and their interactions/drug preferences — provide data that leads to strategic impact.

While Europe has fewer pharma regulations, it lacks the NPI, which poses fundamental challenges in showing tactics’ effectiveness.

The Changing HCP Landscape and How to Adapt Engagement
There was a time 20 years ago when HCPs relied on and valued their relationships with pharma, medical device, and healthcare companies. But over the decades, these relationships degraded, cultivating a less trustworthy, less mutually beneficial dynamic between doctors and companies. Add to this the new Millennial cohort — which insists on a more equitable work-life balance and whose members are more self-reliant than ever — replacing Baby-Boomer HCPs, and you have a range of unprecedented marketing challenges.

Donaldson offers some solutions for the changing landscape:

  • Ditch the 40-page pamphlet or 30-minute meeting, and shift to a more on-demand model of bite-size pieces of content that HCPs can digest on their own time — whether that be at a stop light or between television commercials.
  • Incentivize HCPs to read your information and participate in your services. What will you do for them in return for their attention?
  • Wait for the physicians to pull, and be ready the second they do. It’s rare that physicians are receptive to push strategies and communication.
  • At every touchpoint, always provide a trigger base for additional interaction, including requesting a sample or calling the sales rep.
  • Embrace COVID19 as a catalyst of change. Think less about face-to-face interactions and more about telemedicine.

Digital Health Tools to Identify and Address Important Gaps in Care Across Populations 

The Opportunity
There’s an “enormous opportunity in front of us to save millions of lives,” Bryan Mallitz, director of digital health and innovation at Merck Vaccines said in a fireside chat, to all digital marketing/advertising agencies serving pharma clients. With the way technology is advancing, and the infinite gaps in healthcare, the opportunity for high impact is magnificent.

The Right Team
Before curating the best digital program for your patient market, the right team needs to be aligned. Mallitz advises taking a disciplined, strategic approach to building partnerships that support innovative, tech-centered health programs — whether that be patient portals, consumer apps, text messaging platforms, advocate communities — or something the world hasn’t even thought of yet.

Some partners don’t want to work with pharma due to negative perceptions, and sponsorships may be difficult to secure. But overcoming these challenges and finding a team that’s committed to the brand objective and ready to take on a complex ask is well-worth the search. Following are questions to ask the team before jumping into an ambitious patient health digital platform project:

  1. Is this the right technology for our audience?
  2. How complex will the platform be?
  3. Is the idea possible, and can we do it legally? What are some of the anticipated red flags?
  4. Do we have the right skills internally and the right contacts externally?
  5. How will we make a persuasive business case that this is what the brand needs right now?
  6. How will we develop a structured approach to bringing innovation in to ensure that we “measure twice, cut once”?

How to Engage Patients With Digital Programs
It’s all about understanding the audience — who’s out there? Who’s experiencing a healthcare gap? Once the right target is defined, it turns to targeting the patient at the right place, at the right time, with the right messaging, and continually testing each variable.

Merck Vaccines is making an impact in digital health through tailored, omnichannel approaches toward patients. The company conducts research on where patients are seeking educational and disease awareness information, and how patients and consumers initiate conversations with key stakeholders. Merck is also committed to having a pulse on the ever-changing digital landscape, and letting disguised opportunities — like COVID19 — guide them to new ideas and strategic innovation.


Intouch business development intern Melissa Kraman prepared this conference recap.